Historical Overview

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Chapter 1
Historical Overview

THE 1800s

Throughout its existence, the United States has faced several major external threats to its national security. The first and most enduring threat was the quest for land by other nations desiring to expand their empires. This threat persisted through the 1940s, culminating in World War II (19391945). Following the war, U.S. security was threatened by the spread of communisman economic and political system completely in opposition to the principles of democracy and capitalism embraced by the United States. The cold war period lasted into the early 1990s and pitted the United States against the worlds only other superpower of the time: the Soviet Union. The U.S. government made many foreign policy decisions during the cold war that affected its future national security.

Even before the cold war ended, a new threat arose from political and ideological forces sweeping the planet. International terrorism gained prominence as a means for individuals with common grievances to challenge national governments. The United States has become a target for terrorist groups bent on destroying the military, political, economic, and social factors that have catapulted the United States to a position of dominance. At the same time, technological advances have allowed unfriendly nations to acquire new weapons that could inflict mass destruction on the United States. There is a real threat that such weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups that would not hesitate to use them against the United States.

Protecting U.S. national security means protecting its key assets: people, territory, infrastructure, economy, and sovereignty (supreme and independent political authority). Since its birth as a nation in 1776, the United States has developed a massive array of systems, tools, and weapons to safeguard these assets. However, national security is not just about defending the homeland and reacting to attacks. The U.S. government also takes a proactive approach, meaning that it anticipates future threats and uses its power to try to manipulate world affairs to its own political and economic benefit. U.S. goals for self-preservation and prosperity in the twenty-first century revolve around maintaining military supremacy, eliminating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and spreading democratic principles throughout the world. To understand how the United States arrived at this juncture, it is necessary to review the historical factors that have shaped U.S. foreign policy since the nation was founded.


The United States was born in 1776 in a world consumed with colonialism and empire-building. For several centuries, European superpowersprimarily Britain, Portugal, France, and Spainhad colonized territories throughout the Western Hemisphere by military force or gradual settlement. Russia had expanded its own empire throughout eastern Europe. In China the Ching dynasty had conquered large parts of southern Asia. The Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled a long swath of land around the Mediterranean Sea encompassing parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, and southern Europe.

When European colonists first came to the New World, they found a vast expanse of land inhabited by indigenous peoples that the new settlers called Indians. Many of the first colonies were business ventures financed by wealthy English businessmen and landowners. The king of England granted limited political rights to these colonies, but exerted heavy taxation on them. During the late 1700s the colonists desire for self-governance and tax relief drove them to seek independence from Britain and establish a new nation: the United States of America.


Even before the Revolutionary War (17751783), the North American colonies had formed militias (groups of private citizens devoted to military missions). Some militias were relatively well trained and equipped, whereas others were not. Among the militia members were minutemennamed for their claim that they could be ready to fight in a minute. Some of the colonial militias gained valuable military experience fighting with the British against French and Native American forces during the French and Indian War (17541763). Among these fighters was a young officer named George Washington (17321799), who would be named commander in chief of the colonists Continental army at the onset of the Revolutionary War.

The Continental army overcame enormous obstacles to defeat the professional British army, which was supplemented with thousands of Hessians (German mercenary soldiers). The colonists were aided in their struggle by a variety of European nations, particularly France, Britains longtime enemy. In 1778 the colonists signed the Treaty of Alliance with France; it was the last bilateral (two-party) military agreement the United States would make for nearly two centuries. The military operations of the Revolutionary War ended in 1781, when the last British troops surrendered. The war was officially declared over two years later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

THE 1800s

During the 1800s the new United States grew tremendously in terms of territory, population, and economic might. More than two dozen states were added to the Union. Expansionism was accompanied by violent conflicts with Britain (the War of 1812), Mexico (the Mexican War, 18461848), and Spain (the Spanish-American War, 1898). In addition, the so-called Indian Wars were waged for many years against Native American tribes.

The U.S. military matured throughout the nineteenth century to secure and seize territory from Europes colonial powers and Mexico. The growth of the U.S. Navy was driven in part by threats from the Barbary piratesbands of pirates positioned around the Mediterranean Sea, primarily in North Africa, who terrorized and captured sailing ships and demanded ransom payments from the hostages governments for their safe return. Some nations, including the United States, paid annual fees to the pirates to ensure the safe passage of their ships through the area. However, the U.S. government tired of this arrangement in 1801 and launched military attacks against the pirates. The U.S. Navy eventually prevailed and a treaty ended the threat to U.S. sailing ships.

Meanwhile in the United States, deep divisions developed between northern and southern factions on the morality of slavery and associated political and economic issues. In 1861 a devastating civil war erupted between Union (northern) and Confederate (southern) forces. When the war ended in 1865, hundreds of thousands of military personnel had died. (See Table 1.1.) Over the following decades the nation was consumed with reconstruction and internal affairs. The government vowed to stay out of territorial disputes simmering in Europe and the rest of the world.


In 1914 World War I began in Europe. It pitted the forces of Britain, France, Italy, and Russia (collectively known as the Allied powers) against Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire (collectively known as the Central powers). The United States was reluctant to get involved, but it eventually entered the war in April 1917 on the side of the Allies and fought until the war ended in November 1918. The Allies were victorious: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were divided into a number of separate nations, and severe economic sanctions were imposed against Germany. Reacting to the tremendous loss of life and devastation caused by the war, in the 1920s the United States developed an isolationist stance, determined to stay out of any future European conflicts. This position was to be short lived.

During the 1930s Japan, Germany, and Italy began aggressive military campaigns against their neighbors. In 1939, after years of aggressive expansion, Germany invaded Poland. In response, Britain, France, and Canada declared war on Germany, thereby marking the beginning of World War II. The German blitzkrieg (lightning-fast war) was incredibly successful. By 1941 German forces had defeated and occupied France and invaded the Soviet Union. War had spread throughout Europe, North Africa, parts of China, and the North Atlantic and South Pacific oceans. In the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) publicly adhered to the isolationist sentiment of the American public; however, as early as 1939 he began quietly expanding the nations military capabilities.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces staged a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within days, the United States was at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy. A flood of U.S. goods and military might turned the tide of the war. By early 1945 Germany and Italy had been defeated. In August of that year Japan surrendered after suffering two devastating hits by U.S. atomic bombs. World War II was over, and a new world order had been established. The United States abandoned its isolationist stance and assumed an active role in international affairs.

TABLE 1.1 U.S. military personnel and casualties in major wars, 17751991
War/conflictBranch of serviceNumber servingTotal deathsBattle deathsOther deathsaWounds not mortala
Notes: Data prior to World War I are based on incomplete records in many cases. Casualty data are confined to dead and wounded and, therefore, exclude personnel captured or missing in action who were subsequently returned to military control.
aMarine Corps data for World War II, the Spanish-American War, and prior wars represent the number of individuals wounded, whereas all other data in this column represent the total number (incidence) of wounds.
bNot known, but estimates range from 184,000 to 250,000.
cAs reported by the Commissioner of Pensions in the annual report for fiscal year 1903.
dAuthoritative statistics for the Confederate forces are not available. Estimates of the number who served range from 600,000 to 1,500,000. The final report of the Provost Marshal General, 18631866, indicated 133,821 Confederate deaths (74,524 battle and 59,297 other) based upon incomplete returns. In addition, an estimated 26,000 to 31,000 Confederate personnel died in Union prisons.
eData are for the period December 1, 1941, through December 31, 1946, when hostilities were officially terminated by Presidential Proclamation, but a few battle deaths or wounds not mortal were incurred after the Japanese acceptance of the Allied peace terms on August 14, 1945. Number serving from December 1, 1941, through August 31, 1945, were: Total14,903,213.
fWorldwide military deaths during the Korean War totaled 54,246. In-theater casualty records are updated annually.
gNumber serving covers the period August 5, 1964 (Vietnam era begins) through January 27, 1973 (date of cease-fire). Deaths include the period November 1, 1955 (commencement date for the Military Assistance Advisory Group) through May 15, 1975 (date last American servicemember left Southeast Asia). Casualty records are updated annually, including current deaths that are directly attributed to combat in the Vietnam Conflict. Additional detail now on table shows number of WIA servicemembers not requiring hospital care.
hReport does not include one POW (Speicher). Casualty records are updated annually.
SOURCE: Adapted from Principal Wars in Which the United States Participated: U.S. Military Personnel Serving and Casualties, in DoD Personnel and Military Casualty Statistics: Military Casualty Information, U.S. Department of Defense, May 2008, http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/WCPRINCIPAL.pdf (accessed August 9, 2008)
Revolutionary War 17751783Totalb4,4354,4356,188
War of 1812 18121815Total286,730c2,2602,2604,505
Mexican War 18461848Total78,718c13,2831,73311,5504,152
Civil War (Union Forces only)d 18611865Total2,213,363364,511140,414224,097281,881
Spanish-American WarTotal306,7602,4463852,0611,662
World War I 19171918Total4,734,991116,51653,40263,114204,002
World War II 19411946eTotal16,112,566405,399291,557113,842670,846
Korean War 19501953fTotal5,720,00036,57433,7392,835103,284
Vietnam conflict 19641973gTotal8,744,00058,22047,43410,786Hosp. care reqd. 153,303
No hospital care 150,341
Persian Gulf War 19901991 hTotal2,225,000382147235467


Only months after World War II ended, the representatives of dozens of nations met in the United States and drafted a constitution for a new world organization called the United Nations (UN). The UNs purpose was twofold. First, it was to provide a medium through which international disagreements could be settled peacefully. Second, the UN would tackle vexing humanitarian issues, such as world hunger and disease. A similar organization, called the League of Nations, had sprung up after World War I, but fell apart soon afterward because it received little support in the United States. However, the ravages of World War II had convinced Americans that such a body was needed. In late 1945 Congress overwhelmingly ratified the UN Charter. The UN Security Council would play a major role in determining the course of future conflicts around the world. The Security Council was set up so that five nations (the so-called permanent members) have special veto powers over UN resolutions. The permanent members are the United States, France, Great Britain, China, and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union).

UN programs are funded through assessed and voluntary contributions by member countries. Assessments are based on each countrys financial assets. In United Nations System Funding: Congressional Issues (February 1, 2008, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33611.pdf),

TABLE 1.2 Top ten contributors to the United Nations (UN) regular budget, by member state, 2008
Member statePercentage of budgetAssessments for 2008 in U.S. $
*Permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
SOURCE: Adapted from Marjorie Ann Browne and Kennon H. Nakamura, Table 3. Top 10 U.N. Regular Budget Contributors for 2008, in United Nations System Funding: Congressional Issues, Congressional Research Service, February 1, 2008, http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33611 _20080201.pdf (accessed July 26, 2008)
United States*22.00453,338,391
United Kingdom*6.642136,866,982

Marjorie Ann Browne and Kennon Nakamura of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) note that the United States has been the single largest financial contributor since the UN was founded. Table 1.2 shows the

top ten contributors to the UN regular budget (excluding special programs) for 2008. The U.S. assessment was $453.3 million, or 22% of the total.


The Soviet Union had been a wartime ally of the United States, but relations became strained after World War II ended. During the war the Soviet army liberated a large part of eastern Europe from Nazi occupation. Through various means, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) assumed political control over these nations. The USSR assumed a major role in international affairs, placing it in direct conflict with the only other superpower of the time: the United States. A cold war began between two rich and powerful nations with completely different political, economic, and social goals for the world. The war was called cold because it was fought mostly by politicians and diplomats. A direct and large-scale military conflict (or hot war) between U.S. and Soviet forces never occurred.

Even though the cold war began in the 1940s, its roots actually lie in the late 1910s. In 1917 a group called the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia during the October Revolution and installed a socialist government. Socialism, and its more radical formcommunismalso appealed to some people in Europe and the United States. In 1919 the home of the U.S. attorney general Alexander Mitchell Palmer (18721936) was bombed, and postal inspectors intercepted nearly forty mail bombs before they reached their intended targets. A Red Scare swept through the United States (so-named because red was the color associated with the October Revolution and the new Russian flag). The Bureau of International Information Programs notes in Outline of U.S. History (2005, http://www.america.gov/media/pdf/books/historytln.pdf#popup) that the federal government rounded up communist radicals in the United States and deported those who were not U.S. citizens. The incident left feelings of deep mistrust and hostility in the United States toward communism. A second and much more potent Red Scare swept the country between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Many Americans came under suspicion, and serious breaches of civil liberties occurred in attempts to root out communist sympathizers.

Even though a massive military conflict between U.S. and Soviet forces never ultimately took place, an expensive arms race began in which both sides produced and stockpiled large amounts of weapons as a show of force and to deter a first strike by the enemy. In addition, both sides provided financial and military support to countries around the world in an attempt to influence the political leanings of those populations. Communist China joined the cold war duringthe1950s and often partnered with the Soviet Union against U.S. interests.


U.S. political and military reaction to the threat posed by the Soviet Union was a policy called containment. According to the Bureau of International Information Programs, in Outline of U.S. History this policy was championed by the U.S. diplomat George Kennan (19042005), who called for firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. The gist of containment was explained by President Harry S. Truman (18841972; August 29, 2001, http://www.nato.int/docu/speech/1947/s470312a_e.htm) in a speech to Congress on March 12, 1947, and came to be known as the Truman Doctrine: It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. The Truman Doctrine marked an important change in U.S. foreign policy, which up to that time had mostly taken a hands-off approach to the internal affairs of other nations.

The United States left World War II in sound economic shape. All other major nations had suffered great losses during the war in their infrastructure, financial stability, and populations. Hoping to instill an atmosphere conducive to peace and the spread of capitalism, the United States invested heavily in the postwar economies of Western Europe and Japan. U.S. barriers to foreign trade were relaxed to build new markets for U.S. exports and to allow some war-ravaged nations to make money selling goods to U.S. consumers. Meanwhile, the United States enacted the Marshall Plan, which was designed to rebuild the allied nations of Europe and combat communism. Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid were transmitted to the governments of Greece and Turkey to help them stave off communist-led insurgencies (rebellions). Billions more went to the war-torn nations of Western Europe.

Nervousness in Western Europe about the closeness of Soviet military forces led to the creation in 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)a military coalition between the United States and eleven other nations. The NATO alliance provided added security for all the nations involved, because an attack against one was considered an attack against all.

In 1962 the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war when U.S. intelligence agencies discovered the Soviets had installed nuclear missile facilities in Cuba. In response, President John F. Kennedy (19171963) imposed a blockade to prevent Soviet ships from bringing new supplies to Cuba. He demanded the nuclear facilities be removed and publicly warned the Soviets that any attack from Cuba on the United States would spur retaliation against the Soviet Union. After a suspenseful twelve-day standoff, the Soviets backed down and removed the missiles. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a turning point in the cold war. Negotiations

began between the two superpowers on treaties to limit the testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons. These talks would proceed in fits and starts for decades.

Korea and Vietnam

In 1950 North Korean forces backed by the Soviet military invaded South Korea, setting off the Korean War. Caught off guard by the invasion, the United States rushed to defend South Korea from a communist take-over. Over the next three years U.S. and allied forces under the UN fought against North Korean and Chinese troops supported by the Soviet Union. The war ended in a stalemate, with both sides back where they had started on either side of the thirty-eighth parallel (a line of latitude). In 1953 a cease-fire agreement ended the armed conflict in Korea. North Korea remained under communist control, whereas South Korea became a democracy protected by UN troops (primarily U.S. forces).

Also during the 1950s the U.S. military became involved in a conflict between communist North Vietnam and noncommunist South Vietnam. In an effort to bolster the defenses of the country, the United States sent thousands of military advisers to South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1964 the conflict escalated into full-scale civil war. Once again, the United States found itself in a remote Asian country trying to prevent the spread of communism.

The fight in Vietnam turned out to be a long and difficult one in which U.S. forces, assisted by a handful of other countries, were pitted against highly motivated forces equipped and backed by the Soviet Union and China. During the 1960s the United States was preoccupied with explosive social problems. Furthermore, there were widespread protests against the Vietnam War. By 1968 there were half a million U.S. troops in Vietnam. Nightly television coverage provided a bleak picture of the wars progress and helped turn public opinion against the war and President Lyndon B. Johnson (19081973). The United States was engaged in the war for more than a decade before withdrawing the last of its troops in 1975 and leaving South Vietnam to a communist takeover. According to the Bureau of International Information Programs, in Outline of U.S. History, the total cost of the Vietnam War exceeded $150 billion.

In both the Korean and Vietnam wars the United States chose to fight in a limited manner without using its arsenal of nuclear weapons or engaging Chinese or Soviet troops directly for fear of sparking another world war.

U.S. Defense Industry

Spending on national defense soared during World War II and then declined dramatically following the war's end. However, it quickly climbed again as the cold war heated up and remained high for nearly two decades. Full-scale mobilization of U.S. industries was not required for the Korean and Vietnam wars, as it had been during World War II. Instead, a defense industry developed during the cold war to supply the U.S. military on a continuous basis with the arms and goods it wanted. In a January 17, 1961, speech, President Dwight D.Eisenhower (18901969; July 1, 2000, http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm) described this arrangement to the American public: We can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

The End of the Cold War

The presidency of Richard M. Nixon (19131994) brought a new approach to the cold war called détente a French word meaning to relax. During the early 1970s Nixon also moved to improve relations with the Peoples Republic of China (a communist government had assumed power in China following a revolution during the 1930s). However, U.S.-Soviet relations soured during the 1970s under pressure from President Jimmy Carter (1924) about human rights issues in the Soviet Union. In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a move the United States strongly condemned. The Soviets were mired down in Afghanistan for nearly a decade and were unable to achieve military victory. In 1989 they finally withdrew all their troops.

Ronald Reagan (19112004) was president of the United States from 1981 through 1989. He took an aggressive stance against the Soviet Union, which he referred to as the evil empire. The United States began a massive and expensive buildup in military strength, forcing the Soviet Union to do likewise. Reagan called the U.S. buildup the peace through strength approach. Soon, the Soviet Union faced serious economic problems, dissent (political opposition), and unrest in many of its territories. All these problems precipitated a breakup of the Soviet empire during the late 1980s and early 1990s into individually governed republics. The cold war was over, but its effects on U.S. national security and world politics would be long lasting.


Throughout its history, the United States has faced threats from many foreign countries. Foreign agents secretly infiltrated the United States to obtain information (intelligence) about the nations security mechanisms and to sabotage them. In some cases these efforts were aided by Americans who chose, for whatever reason, to act against U.S. interests and help its enemies. American traitors have existed since the nation was founded. One of the most notorious was Benedict Arnold (17411801),

a Connecticut native who gained success as a military officer during the Revolutionary War. After being injured in battle and suffering a number of professional and personal setbacks, Arnold secretly accepted large sums of money from the British in exchange for his cooperation in their future military operations. However, before he could carry out these plans, one of his conspirators was captured by the colonists. Arnold fled to England, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

The most serious act of a traitor is defined as treason. Article three of the U.S. Constitution discusses treason as follows: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. Since World War I the United States has passed a number of laws designed to thwart potential traitors from aiding and abetting U.S. enemies. James Willard Hurst explains in The Law of Treason in the United States (1971) that eleven cases of treason related to World War II were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The cold war was an extremely active time for espionage (spying). The United States and the Soviet Union conducted massive intelligence and counterintelligence operations throughout this period. American spies played a key role in passing important information to Soviet agents. In Espionage against the United States by American Citizens: 19472001 (July 2002 http://www.ncix.gov/archives/docs/espionageAgainstUSbyCitizens.pdf), Katherine L. Herbig and Martin F. Wiskoff provide an analysis of U.S. espionage cases. They note that the Defense Personnel Security Research Centers database includes information on 150 Americans who were convicted or strongly suspected of committing acts of espionage during this period. Figure 1.1 shows the number of known American spies active in each year between 1950 through 2001. Activity peaked during the mid-1980s and tapered off sharply after that time. The data in Figure 1.2 indicate that the Soviet bloc (the Soviet Union and affiliated nations in Eastern Europe) was the primary recipient of the information collected by American spies during the cold war.

In the latter part of the twentieth century there were several high-profile cases involving Americans within the

U.S. military or intelligence agencies caught spying for communist governments:

  • Aldrich H. Ames (1941) of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spied for nine years for the Soviet Union.
  • Ana Montes (1957) was a Defense Intelligence Agency officer who spent fifteen years spying for Cuba.
  • John A. Walker (1937) of the U.S. Navy passed information to the Soviets for more than seventeen years.
  • Clyde L. Conrad (19481998) of the U.S. Army was a Soviet spy for at least thirteen years.
  • Robert Philip Hanssen (1944) was an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and spied for the Soviet Union for twenty-two years.


The Vietnam War severely dampened the nations willingness to commit U.S. troops to foreign conflicts. The long war had not saved South Vietnam from a communist takeover and had been costly in terms of money and human suffering. Over 8.7 million U.S. military personnel served during the Vietnam conflict. (See Table 1.1.) U.S. casualties included 58,220 killed and over 303,000 wounded. In addition, the war brought death and misery to millions of Vietnamese civilians. As a result, the American public and U.S. politicians were not keen to commit U.S. forces to future foreign conflicts.

During the 1980s the U.S. military had additional setbacks. An attempt to rescue hostages from the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1980 had to be aborted after a helicopter crash killed eight U.S. military personnel. (See Table 1.3.) U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon as part of a UN peacekeeping effort suffered a calamitous terrorist attack. More than two hundred of them were killed. U.S. troops did conduct successful operations in Grenada and Panama during the decade, but these were small and limited in scope. These incidents did not indicate to the American public or the world at large the full capabilities of the maturing U.S. military.

An influx of money during the 1970s and 1980s from the Carter and Reagan administrations financed the development of sophisticated weapons and computer technology. Training was also a priority, as was the reorganization of the military hierarchy at the top levels. As a result, U.S. forces performed extremely well in 1990 when a UN

TABLE 1.3 U.S. military deaths worldwide in selected military operations, selected years 198096
Military operation/incidentCasualty typeTotal
*Place of casualty, Lebanon
SOURCE: Adapted from Table 13. Worldwide U.S. Active Duty Military Deaths, Selected Military Operations, in Worldwide U.S. Active Duty Military Personnel Casualties: October 1979 through March 1998, U.S. Department of Defense, March 1998, http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/M07/mar98cas.pdf (accessed August 11, 2008)
Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission April 25, 1980Nonhostile8
Lebanon peacekeeping, August 25, 1982February 26, 1984*Hostile256
Urgent Fury, Grenada, 1983Hostile18
Just Cause, Panama, 1989Hostile23
Persian Gulf War, 19901991  
    Desert ShieldNonhostile84
    Desert StormHostile148
    Desert Shield/StromTotal383
Restore Hope/UNOSOM, Somalia, 19921994Hostile29
Uphold Democracy, Haiti, 19941996Nonhostile4

coalition was formed to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. It was the first of several major conflicts that would take place in a new theater for U.S. military action: the Middle East.


Geographically, the Middle East is a region at the intersection of Asia, Africa, and Europe. There is no official designation of the countries that make up the Middle East. The term is largely a sociopolitical one used by those in the Western world to collectively describe a group of countries in and around the Arabian Peninsula. This group is often thought to extend from Iran in the east to the northwest coast of Africa. Some observers include other nearby countries, such as Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In a historical context, the region now known as the Middle East once comprised the core of the Ottoman Empire, which was splintered into individual nations following World War I.

Peoples and Religions

In The Modern Middle East: A Political History since the First World War (2005), Mehran Kamrava of California State University, Northridge, notes that there are vast differences between and within the histories, cultures, traditions, and politics of the Middle Eastern countries. However, there are also powerful unifying characteristics within the region, primarily religion and historic ethnic commonalities.

Westerners tend to describe all Middle Eastern people as Arabs. The term Arab is actually an ethnic designation applied to certain tribes descended from Shem (or Sem), the oldest son of Noah in biblical history. The descendants of Shem are called Semites; they include the Babylonians and Phoenicians and the Hebrew tribes of ancient times. The Hebrews embraced the religion of Judaism and settled the kingdom of Israel. Arab tribes scattered throughout the region and were governed by various kings or tribal rulers. During the seventh century a new Arab leader emerged named Muhammad(c. 570632), who would change the world by introducing a new religion called Islam.

The followers of Islam are called Muslims. They worship one God (whom they call Allah) and believe that Allahs messages were passed by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad in the land known today as Saudi Arabia. Gods messages are called the Koran. This term is also used to refer to the messages in written form, which make up Islams holy book. Most Muslims consider Islam much more than a religious practice; they believe it encompasses all areas of life, including social, economic, and political aspects.

By far, Islam is the most predominant religion in the Middle East. However, as with most religions, there are diverse belief sets within Islam. The two largest sects are called Sunni and Shia; their respective followers have historical disagreements about issues related to governance and theological interpretations. These disagreements sometimes lead to violent confrontations between fellow Muslims. Many other religions are practiced throughout the region but by small populations in most countries. The notable exception is Judaism, which is the predominant religion of Israel.

Ethnically, the modern Middle East is dominated by Arab peoples who reside mostly in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and parts of northern Africa. There are substantial pockets of non-Arabs; for example, Persians descended from tribes in southwest Asia predominate in Iran, Turks in Turkey, Kurds in northern Iraq, and Jewish descendants of the ancient Hebrew tribes in Israel.

Thus, the Middle East is a complicated mosaic of societies in which some widely shared characteristics provide grounds for unity among much of the population. However, cultural, political, and religious differences within the region are a source of often violent confrontations between peoples. One such confrontation has grown to dominate the sociopolitical affairs of the Middle East and has become a source of great concern to U.S. national security interests: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel and Palestine

Following World War I the League of Nations placed some territories of the former Ottoman Empire under the administration of Britain and France. Iraq and Palestine were administered by Great Britain, and Syria and Lebanon by France. This arrangement was called the Mandates System and was designed to be temporary, lasting only until the territories could mature into independent nations ruled by their own governments. The populations of the administered countries greatly resented foreign intervention in their affairs and viewed the arrangement as colonialism. As a result, there was much political and social unrest in these countries. Eventually, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon did gain their independence.

Palestine was supposed to become a nation called the Palestinian Arab State. A variety of factors have prevented this from happening as described by the UN article Question of Palestine (February 1, 2008, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/balfour.htm) stated in part: His Majestys Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country

The Balfour Declaration pleased ZionistsJews around the world seeking an independent Jewish state on the land inhabited in ancient times by the Hebrew tribes, that is, the Land of Israel. Most Jews had been driven from Palestine by the end of the second century. The land was subsequently ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Persians, a series of Muslim rulers, and the Ottoman Empire. The many non-Jewish people (primarily Arab Muslims) inhabiting Palestine in the early twentieth century did not want to lose their own chance at statehood and give up land their ancestors had inhabited for centuries.

STATE OF ISRAEL. The Balfour Declaration spurred mass migrations of Jews from around the world to Palestine. The UN explains in Question of Palestine that migrations were particularly heavy during the 1930s from Nazi Germany and eastern Europeareas where Jews were subject to harsh persecution and even extermination. Violence grew between the Arab Palestinians and the incoming Jewish peoplesboth of whom claimed the land as their own. In 1947 the British government turned the problem over to the UN, which proposed splitting Palestine into two approximately even-sized states, one Jewish and one Arab. Jerusalem, a city considered sacred to both Jews and Muslims, was to be ruled under a Special International Regime. The partition plan did not please Arab rulers, and the violence in Palestine escalated.

In 1948 the Jewish population of Palestine declared itself a nationthe State of Israeland found itself immediately at war with the armies of Palestines neighbors and Arab supporters: Egypt, Transjordan (later Jordan), Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. During the war Israeli forces captured more than three-fourths of the original territory of Palestine and most of Jerusalem. The remainder of the territory was held by the governments of Egypt and Jordan. These areas are called the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively. (See Figure 1.3.) In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured both of these areas and all of Jerusalem. In response, the UN issued Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from the areas it had just captured and for all states in the region to cease their belligerency and live in peaceful coexistence. This did not occur.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES. In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was appointed by a group of Arab nations to represent the political aspirations of Palestine. The PLO was an umbrella organization for a variety of Palestinian groups with varying views on the use of politics and violence to achieve their goals. The main group was al Fatah, which was led by Yasir Arafat (19292004). During its early years the PLO was often associated with acts of violence against Israeli civilians and soldiers. PLO splinter groups have been linked to many acts of terrorism around the world, including the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees fleeing wars and other violence spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Europe. They have played a substantial role in raising money and eliciting sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause around the world.

During the 1990s the PLO achieved a measure of legitimacy as the United States worked to obtain a peace agreement in the decades-old dispute over Palestine. In 1993 Arafat officially recognized the State of Israel as a legitimate government. In return, the Israeli government extended official recognition to the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Arab Palestinians. That same year the two sides reached an agreement called the Oslo Accords that laid out a plan for limited Palestinian control over some of its territories by a new government called the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Full implementation of the plan has been thwarted by continued violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. However, in 2005 Israel did withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip.

Arafat died in 2004 and was replaced by a close associate, Mahmoud Abbas (1935), who was elected president of the PNA in 2005. In 2006 Palestinian voters gave members of the organization Hamas majority control of the PNA, relegating al Fatah to a minority position. The United States considers Hamas a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law. The United States and al Fatah refused to recognize Hamas as the legitimate leading party in Palestine. The U.S. government forbade direct economic aid to Palestine in the wake of the Hamas elections. Abbas began an internal political battle with the elected Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (1962), a member of Hamas. A near civil war erupted between Palestinian peoples allied with either side. In June 2007 Abbas declared a state of emergency and officially dissolved Haniyehs government after Hamas forces routed al Fatah forces and seized military and political control of the Gaza Strip. Dozens of Palestinians were killed in the fighting. Abbas appointed a new prime minister, Salam Fayyad (1952), but the appointment was largely ignored by Hamas leaders and supporters. The United States lifted its earlier sanctions to encourage development of the Abbas government. As of September 2008, Abbas and the al Fatah party controlled the West Bank and Hamas controlled the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. government considers Abbas a relatively moderate influence in Palestinian politics. Scott Wilson reports in Abbas Dissolves Government as Hamas Takes Control of Gaza (Washington Post, June 15, 2007) that Abbas has called for peace talks with Israel, while the Hamas charter calls for the Jewish states destruction. In September 2007 Abbas began meeting with the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (1945) in peace talks brokered by the United States. In June 2008 Israel did manage to achieve a shaky Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That area has been the source of frequent missile attacks on settlements in southern Israel. Israel agreed to cease military operations against militants in Gaza and to end an economic blockade. However, as of September 2008, negotiations had failed to yield an agreement acceptable to both sides.

U.S. Connection to the Middle East

Since World War I, U.S. political, economic, and military affairs have become greatly entangled with circumstances in the Middle East. As of September 2008, U.S. military forces occupied two nations in the region: Afghanistan and Iraq. Both invasions were driven by perceived threats to U.S. national security. In addition, there were ongoing issues related to the United States alliance with Israel and U.S. dependence on petroleum from oil-rich nations of the Middle East.

The United States has been a staunch ally of Israel since that nation was founded. Support for Zionism within the United States was not extremely popular before World War II but grew tremendously when the horrors of the

Jewish holocaust in Europe came to light. President Truman was a strong advocate for a Jewish state in Palestine. In Outline of U.S. History, the Bureau of International Information Programs states that Truman officially recognized the new nation of Israel only fifteen minutes after it was formed.

U.S. political and financial support for Israelone of the few true democracies in the regionhas continued for decades and is a source of deep resentment among the predominantly Muslim peoples of the Middle East. Israel is considered a close ally of the United States and a major trading partner. Israel also enjoys popular support among the American people. Figure 1.4 shows the results of a poll conducted in February 2008 by the Gallup Organization on American sympathies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pollsters found that 59% of Americans expressed sympathy with Israel in the conflict. Only 17% of the respondents expressed sympathy for the Palestinians. In the same poll Gallup asked Americans which of the factions the U.S. government should pressure more to make the necessary compromises to resolve the conflict. More than a third (39%) of respondents said more pressure should be put on the Palestinians, whereas 25% advocated more pressure on the Israelis. (See Figure 1.5.) Another 15% thought both sides should receive more pressure from the U.S. government. Ten percent said neither side should be pressured more, and 11% did not provide an answer to the question.

Oil is another important connection between the United States and the Middle East. Interestingly, Israel is surrounded by oil-rich nations but has few natural petroleum reserves of its own. The United States and other industrialized nations consume much more oil than they produce and need a steady supply at low prices for their economies to function. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, and other nations along the Persian Gulf are all rich in oil, and significant deposits are found elsewhere in the Middle East as well. In fact, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the Middle East was by far the worlds top oil-producing region. This means that Middle Eastern oil producers can influence the United States and other nations by manipulating, or threatening to manipulate, the supply of oil. Furthermore, anything that endangers the flow of oil from the Middle East, such as war or political instability in the region, threatens U.S. national security and may motivate a response.

The United States faces a challenging problem in trying to maintain both its alliance with Israel and good relations with the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, where Israel is unpopular at best. In 1973 Middle Eastern members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting

Countries halted oil exports to the United States in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel. The oil embargo lasted five months. When shipments resumed, the price of oil had dramatically increased. Americans faced high prices, long lines, and shortages at the gas pumps.

In August 1990 President Saddam Husseins (1937 2006) Iraqi military forces invaded Kuwait. President George H. W. Bush (1924) acted to put together a coalition of international forces that successfully forced Iraq out of Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War, as it came to be known, was short lived and would be seen as a triumphant, if incomplete, victory by allied forces. Even though his military strength was weakened, Hussein was not removed from power in Iraq and continued to pose foreign relations problems for the United States for many years.

In 2003 President George W. Bush (1946) conducted a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Hussein from power. Following the invasion, U.S. and coalition military forces began a troubled occupation. As of September 2008, continuing violence by Iraqi insurgents (revolutionaries) and their sympathizers had prevented Iraqi authorities from establishing law and order and complete governmental control.

U.S. relations with Iran have also been troubled for decades. During the 1950s U.S. intelligence agencies helped install a pro-U.S. government in Iran with the help of that nations leader (or shah). The shahs government was overthrown in 1979 during a revolution by conservative Muslims. President Carter allowed the shah to enter the United States for medical treatment, triggering an attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran. Dozens of Americans were held hostage for more than a year, an event that brought a deep rift in U.S.-Iranian relations. In 2002 the United States learned that Iran had been secretly building nuclear facilities and conducting experiments that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. Irans nuclear capabilities and anti-American government are issues of great concern to U.S. national security.


Throughout most of U.S. history, national security concerns were centered on other nations. During the twentieth century, however, a new threat emerged: international terrorists. These are individuals with a common violent agenda who band together and attack the assets and people of nations with whom they have disagreements.

Worldwide terrorist attacks accelerated during the 1970s and 1980s, a time of heightened activity by militant Islamic groups opposed to Israel (and by association, the United States). U.S. diplomatic and military personnel stationed overseas were the primary targets of many of these attacks. Between 1979 and 1984 the U.S. embassies in Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Lebanon, and Kuwait were attacked. In 1998 the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were destroyed by powerful car bombs. A dozen Americans died in the attacks, but hundreds of Africans were killed and thousands more injured. Off-duty U.S. military personnel have also been frequent targets of terrorist violence. During the 1980s more than two hundred of these personnel were killed by attacks in Lebanon, Germany, and other countries. In 1996 and 2000 terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, respectively, claimed the lives of three dozen U.S. troops and injured hundreds more.

Over the past two decades U.S. civilians abroad and at home have increasingly become targets for terrorist violence. The most horrific incidents have included the 1988 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed all 259 passengers and 11 more on the ground. In 1993 international terrorists visited U.S. soil. A car bomb planted in the underground garage at the World Trade Center in New York City killed six people and injured approximately one thousand.

These casualties paled in comparison to the tragedy produced by the September 11, 2001 (9/11), terrorist attacks. On that day four U.S. commercial airliners were commandeered by hijackers. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers struggled with their hijackers. The attacks killed more than twenty-nine hundred people and stunned the world. Intelligence revealed that the hijackers were Middle Eastern terrorists associated with the group al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden (1957). The U.S. government believed that bin Laden was being harbored by the Taliban government of Afghanistan and demanded that he be turned over to U.S. authorities. After the Taliban refused to do so, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan. Even though the military operations were a success overall, the United States was not able to capture bin Laden and has found itself in a lingering guerrilla-type conflict with Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

The 9/11 attacks dramatically altered the priorities of the U.S. government. President Bush launched a War on Terror and created a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security to strengthen national security. Furthermore, given that terrorism is a worldwide problem, the international community working through the UN had in place in 2008 thirteen agreements (called conventions or protocols) designed to enhance international cooperation in countering the terrorist threat. (See Table 1.4.)


Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are weapons that are capable of killing large numbers of people. For example, one atomic bomb has much more destructive power than many conventional weapons put together.

TABLE 1.1 International conventions and protocols regarding terrorism, 2008
SOURCE: International Conventions and Protocols, in Country Reports on Terrorism, 2007, U.S. Department of State, April 2008, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/105904.pdf (accessed July 29, 2008)
1. Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft
Signed in Tokyo on September 14, 1963.
Convention entered into force on December 4, 1969.
Status: 183 parties
2. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft
Signed in The Hague on December 16, 1970.
Convention entered into force on October 14, 1971.
Status: 182 parties
3. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation
Signed in Montreal on September 23, 1971.
Convention entered into force on January 26, 1973.
Status: 185 parties
4. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents
Adopted in New York on December 14, 1973.
Convention entered into force on February 20, 1977.
Status: 166 parties
5. International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages
Adopted in New York on December 17, 1979.
Convention entered into force on June 3, 1983.
Status: 164 parties
6. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
Signed in Vienna on October 26, 1979.
Convention entered into force on February 8, 1987.
Status: 130 parties
7. Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation
Signed in Montreal on February 24, 1988.
Protocol entered into force on August 6, 1989.
Status: 161 parties
8. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation
Done in Rome on March 10, 1988.
Convention entered into force on March 1, 1992.
Status: 147 parties
9. Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf
Done in Rome on March 10, 1988.
Protocol entered into force on March 1, 1992.
Status: 136 parties
10. Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection
Done in Montreal on March 1, 1991.
Convention entered into force on June 21, 1998.
Status: 137 parties
11. International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings
Adopted in New York on December 15, 1997.
Convention entered into force on May 23, 2001.
Status: 153 parties
12. International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism
Adopted in New York on December 9, 1999.
Convention entered into force on April 10, 2002.
Status: 160 parties
13. International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
Adopted in New York on April 13, 2005.
Convention entered into force on July 7, 2007.
Status: 115 parties
14. 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
Not yet entered into force
Status: 13 States have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval
with the depositary.
15. Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation
Not yet entered into force
Status: Two states have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval with the depositary.
16. Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf
Not yet entered into force
Status: No states have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval with the depositary.

The ferocity of the 9/11 attacks brought a new realization to the United States that terrorists would likely use WMDs if they could build or obtain them. At the same time, new national threats have arisen around the world, particularly from North Korea and Iran countries that have developed or are thought to be pursuing a nuclear arsenal in defiance of the UN. The U.S. government has dubbed these defiant countries rogue nations.

Thus, a new urgency has developed to safeguard existing WMDs around the world and to prevent new ones from being developed. The United States and the Soviet Union each began disarming and destroying nuclear weapons within their possession even before the cold war ended. However, there were still many such weapons in the Soviet Union when it disintegrated into separate republics in the early 1990s. This has been a source of lingering concern for U.S. policy makers. A variety of mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that old Soviet WMDs are not transferred to terrorist groups or rogue nations. This quest is made much more difficult by the addition of several new nations to the so-called nuclear club. The United States started the club with its development of atomic bombs during World War II. The Soviet Union (now Russia) joined several years later. Since that time, seven other nations are known or suspected to have tested nuclear weapons: the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Besides the danger of nuclear weapons, the United States also faces a threat from chemical and biological WMDs. These are weapons that use chemical and/or biological agents as their killing force. The use of such weapons in warfare is not new; mustard gas was deployed by the Germans and the British during World War I and used by other nations after that time. UN treaties restrict the use of chemical and biological weapons in modern warfare. Therefore, the major danger is from terrorist groups and rogue nations that do not feel bound by international agreements or restraints.


As he was inaugurated for his second term on January 20, 2005, President Bush http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050120-1.html) stated:

It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.

The United States is often described as the worlds policeman because of its propensity to intervene and attempts to shape the outcome of foreign conflicts. Obviously, the nation has a vested interest in seeing a world free of tyranny and filled with democratically governed nations friendly to the United States. However, there is debate over the extent to which the United States should interfere in the internal matters of foreign countries. Even though the American people strongly support national defense and certain aspects of the policeman role, they are less certain about the United States recent ventures into so-called nation building. The United States waged successful military campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq that routed tyrannical leaders. However, the resulting power vacuums left it struggling to rebuild these war-torn and politically torn countries. The United States has essentially become the internal policeman of these two countries and responsible for their day-to-day operations in a manner unprecedented in U.S. history.

Figure 1.6 shows the results of a Gallup poll conducted in February 2008 that asked Americans about their level of support for various foreign policy goals. Ninety-seven percent of those asked said preventing future acts of international terrorism should be a very important or somewhat important goal. There was overwhelming

support for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (95% support), securing adequate supplies of energy (95% support), and defending U.S. allies security (90% support). More than 80% of respondents thought it was very or somewhat important to promote and defend human rights in other countries (87% support), maintain superior military power worldwide (85% support), protect weaker nations against foreign aggression (84% support), and help improve the standard of living of less developed nations (80% support). Only 66% of respondents expressed the same level of support for building democracy in other countries.


The United States spends a great deal of money to protect its national security. Tasks within this area fall to a number of federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the CIA. Certain components and resources of other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are also devoted to national security interests. From a cost standpoint, the largest expense, by far, is for national defense U.S. military operations under the direction of the DOD.

National Defense

Military spending by the United States, particularly during wartime, has historically been extremely high. Table 1.5 shows the economic costs of every major U.S. war dating back to the Revolutionary War. The costs were estimated through June 2008 by CRS analysts. The costs are shown in current year and constant 2008 dollars. For example, the Revolutionary War is estimated to have cost $101 million at the time it was fought in the late 1770s. In 2008 dollars this would amount to $1.8 billion. World War II has been, by far, the most expensive war in U.S. history costing $4.1 trillion in 2008 dollars. The second-most expensive war has been the War on Terror waged since 9/11. The CRS estimates that as of June 2008 the expenses for the global War on Terror exceeded $859 billion.

A somewhat lower estimate has been provided by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In Global War on Terrorism: Reported Obligations for the Department of Defense (June 13, 2008,http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08853r.pdf), the GAO reports that the DOD had been appropriated a total of $635.9 billion by Congress through March 2008 to fight the global War on Terror. (See Figure 1.7.) The DOD had total financial obligations (payments made or due) of $562 billion as of March 2008. The GAO notes that it is required by law to submit quarterly updates to Congress on War on Terror costs and uses data provided monthly by the DOD to do so. However, the GAO complains that the DODs monthly reports are of questionable reliability, so the GAO values are considered approximations.

TABLE 1.5 Military costs of major U.S. Wars, as of June 2008
 Years of war spendingPeak year of war spending
Total military cost of war in millions/billions of dollarsWar cost %GDP in peak year of warTotal defense % GDP in peak year of war
American Revolution17751783 
Current year $101 million 
Constant FY2008$1,825 millionNANA
War of 1812181218151813
Current year $90 million 
Constant FY2008$1,177 million2.2%2.7%
Mexican War
Current year $184618491847
Constant FY2008$71 million 
 1,801 million1.4%1.9%
Civil War: Union186118651865
Current year $3,183 million 
Constant FY2008$45,199 million11.3%11.7%
Civil War: Confederacy18611865 
Current year $1,000 million 
Constant FY2008$15,244 millionNANA
Spanish American War189818991899
Current year $283 million 
Constant FY2008$6,848 million1.1%1.5%
World War I191719211919
Current year $20 billion 
Constant FY2008$253 billion13.6%14.1%
World War II194119451945
Current year $296 billion 
Constant FY2008$4,114 billion35.8%37.5%
Current year $30 billion 
Constant FY2008$320 billion4.2%13.2%
Current year $111 billion 
Constant FY2008$686 billion2.3%9.5%
Persian Gulf Wara199019911991
Current year $61 billion 
Constant FY2008$96 billion0.3%4.6%
Current year $616 billion 
Constant FY2008$648 billion1.0%4.2%
Current year $159 billion 
Constant FY2008$171 billion0.3%4.0%
Post-9/11 domestic security (Operation Noble Eagle)b2001present2003
Current year $28 billion 
Constant FY2008$33 billion0.1%3.7%

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicates in Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009 (February 2008, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/hist.pdf) that the United States was expected to spend $607.3 billion on national defense in 2008, up from $521.8 billion in 2006. (See Table 1.6.) The total federal budget for 2008 was estimated at $2.9 trillion. Thus, spending on national defense constituted 21% of the total budget. National defense has made up about 17% to 20% of total federal spending since the early 1990s. (See Figure 1.8.) Spending

TABLE 1.5 Military costs of major U.S. Wars, as of June 2008
 Years of war spendingPeak year of war spending
Total military cost of war in millions/billions of dollarsWar cost %GDP in peak year of warTotal defense % GDP in peak year of war
Notes: aMost Persian Gulf War costs were offset by allied contributions or were absorbed by Department of Defense (DOD). Net costs to U.S. taxpayers totaled $4.7 billion in current year dollars.
bTotals for post-9/11 operations include all funds appropriated through the enactment of FY2008 supplemental appropriations and FY2009 bridge fund appropriations in P.L. 110252, which the President signed into law on June 30, 2008. Totals are for military operations only and do not include costs of reconstruction assistance, diplomatic security, and other activities by other agencies. Figures for post-9/11 costs are for budget authorityall other figures are for outlays.
cReflects funding for Operation Enduring Freedom, the bulk of which is for operations in Afghanistan but which also includes amounts for operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, and other areas.
dBased on data available from DOD, Congressional Research Service is not able to allocate $5.5 billion (in current year dollars) in FY2003 by mission. That amount included here in the total for all post-9/11 operations.
FY = Fiscal Year.
source: Stephen Daggett, Military Costs of Major U.S. Wars, in Costs of Major U.S. Wars, Congressional Research Service, July 24, 2008, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22926.pdf (accessed July 25, 2008)
Total post-9/11-Iraq,Afghanistan/GWOT, ONEd2001-present2008 
Current year$ 809 billion  
Constant FY2008$859 billion1.2%4.2%

on national defense spiked during World War II, reaching nearly 90% of the nations total outlays. It dropped dramatically following the war and then rebounded during the early years of the cold war. Spending steadily decreased between about 1955 and 2000 before it began to slowly rise again beginning in about 2001.

One of the most expensive components of national defense over the long run is the cost for the development and testing of new highly sophisticated military equipment (such as aircraft, ships, submarines, and various types of weapons and bombs). In Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs (March 2008, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08467sp.pdf), the GAO lists the spending estimates between 2008 and 2012 for the future development of the DODs ten most expensive equipment systems. (See Table 1.7.) The total cost of development for these ten systems alone will be $194.2 billion by 2012. The total cost for all major weapon systems will be $335.3 billion.

A Gallup poll conducted in March 2008 found Americans nearly evenly split on whether the nations national defense is adequate or needs to be strengthened. Forty-seven percent of those asked said national defense was not strong enough. (See Figure 1.9.) Another 41% said it was about right. Only 10% felt that national defense was stronger than needs to be. In the same poll, Gallup asked about spending on national defense. Less than a quarter (22%) of respondents said the U.S. spends too little on national defense and the military. (See Figure 1.10.) Thirty percent thought the spending was about right, and 44% thought it was too much.

Other Spending

National security encompasses more than military operations. The DHS is responsible for preventing terrorists from striking inside the United States, fortifying U.S. defenses against an attack, and preparing the American people and emergency responders in case an attack does occur. In Homeland Security Budget-in-Brief: Fiscal Year 2009 (February 2008, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/budget_bib-fy2009.pdf), the agency notes that it had a total budget authority of $42.9 billion in fiscal year 2007. It was expected to spend approximately $47 billion in 2008. The CIA is also devoted exclusively to national security pursuits. However, as explained further in Chapter 2, the agencys budget and spending are classified.

The OMB estimates in Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009 that $34.8 billion in funds would be needed in 2008 to handle international affairs. This included operation of the nations foreign

TABLE 1.6 Federal spending on national defense, 200613
[Millions of dollars]
Function and subfunction200620072008 estimate2009 estimate2010 estimate2011 estimate2012 estimate2013 estimate
N/A = Not available.
SOURCE: Adapted from Table 3.2. Outlays by Function and Subfunction: 19622013, in Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009, Office of the President of the United States, Office of Management and Budget, February 2008, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/hist.pdf (accessed July 29, 2008)
National defense:
Department of Defensemilitary:
Military personnel127,543128,826137,401129,072N/AN/AN/ANA
Operation and maintenance203,789216,631225,062241,455N/AN/AN/ANA
Procurement89 75799 647130 477142 843N/AN/AN/ANA
Research, development, test, and evaluation68,62973,13674,73578,566N/AN/AN/ANA
Military construction6,2457,89910,24115,115N/AN/AN/AN/A
Family housing3,7173,4734,2903,358N/AN/AN/ANA
Subtotal, department of defensemilitary499,310529,845583,054651,162566,662537,737540,942549,278
Atomic energy defense activities17,46817,05017,77518,22917,97617,19816,88617,005
Defense-related activities5,0625,6736,4345,6935,7195,8135,8425,859
Total, national defense521,840552,568607,263675,084590,357560,748563,670572,142

affairs programs (e.g., embassies) and funds that would be provided to foreign nations for development, humanitarian causes, and security assistance. These tasks help ensure U.S. national security by developing and nurturing friendly relationships with other nations. Thus, it can be estimated that the United States planned to spend approximately $689 billion in 2008 to protect and enhance its national security interests. Note that this total does not include the amount spent by the CIA, because that agencys budget and spending are confidential.

TABLE 1.7 Planned funding for major defense programs, 200812
[Fiscal year 2008 dollars in billions]
ProgramFiscal year 
Notes: Numbers may not add due to rounding. The ballistic missile defense system is composed of several programs.
MDAP = Major Defense Acquisition Program.
SOURCE: Table 3. Planned RDT&E and Procurement Funding for Major Defense Acquisition Programs, as of December 2006, in Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs, U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 2008, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08467sp.pdf (accessed August 8, 2008)
Ballistic missile defense system$8.9$9.1$9.1$8.9$8.8$44.9
Joint strike fighter6.$41.4
Virgina class submarine2.$19.0
Future combat systems3.$17.0
V22 joint services advanced vertical lift aircraft3.$15.0
DDG 1000 destroyer3.$14.4
Future aircraft carrier CVN213.$13.4
P8A multimission maritime aircraft0.$10.1
F/A18 EF2.$8.8
Finding for top 10 MDAP programs39.140.637.335.242.0$194.2
Finding for other 85 MDAP programs33.231.526.925.424.1$141.1
10 MDAP programs (percentage of total)545658586458

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Historical Overview